Deer Park Hall Weddings
Helen & Dan
Deer Park Hall in Eckington is one of my favourite wedding venues, and one that I am privileged to be a recommended photographer for, and have been for a number of years. Helen and Dan's wedding wasn't ordered in a traditional way which made it really interesting - but I'll get on to that a little more, later on in this article.
My day started with Helen, her mum and her bridesmaid in a suite at Hilton's Puckrup Hall near Tewkesbury. On hand for hair and makeup was a fantastic artist and a good friend of mine, Aleksandra Guz.
Helen gave her mum a present mid-morning and I was perfectly placed to capture this beautiful moment. The black and white image below was actually captured in the mirror - this allowed me to get the best angle!
Dan, his parents and his brother were also getting ready in the same location. Well, I say 'same location' but anyone that's visited Puckrup Hall knows it seemingly goes on forever inside, and is usually the case, the bride and groom were at opposite ends. I must have reached my steps-goal for the day just walking between the two of them!
After a few casual getting-ready shots with both Helen and Dan, I went back to the bride, ready to photograph her dad's reaction to seeing her in the wedding dress for the first time. His reaction was so warm and loving, and I really think you can feel the relationship the two of them must have in the image below. They certainly make me smile!
At the beginning I said that Helen and Dan's wedding wasn't structured in the normal way - so let me explain. The plan was forDan to get to Deer Park at around midday, with Helen to arrange a short while afterwards. With the two of them alone (aside from myself and Tom, the videographer) we were going to stage a first-look for them both, which is something I have experienced in the past. A first-look, for those who aren't aware (after all this is a largely American tradition) is where the bride and groom get to see each other in their wedding attire for the first time, at the same time, by means of a 'big reveal.'
One of the oddities of the day was there wasn't enough space in a car for Dan to get to Deer Park, with other things for the wedding having to be carried over too. I of course volunteered to transport him for the 20 minutes it would take to get there - but then I found myself in the new situation of being in a car alone with a groom in the hour before he was due to get married. 'Are you nervous?!' may have been my first question!
Between Dan, Tom (the videographer) and myself, we decided that the best way to approach the first-look would be for Dan to be looking away from the building, out towards the countryside, with Helen coming up to meet him from behind when she was ready. Of course this just served to build any tension that Dan must have been feeling - but it would have made for a more emotional reaction which is what my job is all about.
I mean look at that face!
I love the three photos below. They were taken in the moments immediately following the first-look and the way Helen and Dan look at each other just warms my heart. The last two photos where they're both looking at the other but not at the same time is so cute, it's like they can't believe that it's really their wedding day.
So as I was saying, Helen and Dan's wedding wasn't traditional in how it was structured. In a 'traditional' wedding you'd have the bride and groom seeing each other for the first time when they meet at the end of the aisle. Then you go wedding > drinks reception > formal photos > couples photos > reception. For Helen and Dan, that order would look something like this: First look> couples photos > formal photos > wedding > drinks reception > evening reception. Now I actually love working this way, for so many reasons. The bride and groom get to see each other for the first time under controlled circumstances, which you don't get at a 'normal' wedding. Secondly, when you're taking the couple's photos, there aren't onlookers or other wedding guests. When it comes to the group photos, you're not frantically trying to find people and take all of the group photos before the wedding breakfast is served and once you're actually married there's nothing left to do apart from relax with your closest friends and family. What's not to love?!
Before I started on the couple's photos, I took a few portraits of the bride on her own. I would usually take these images in the hotel before the wedding, but as we had plenty of time and outdoor space, I chose to take these images at Deer Park instead. I absolutely loved Helen's flower crown, and it's a real shame I don't get to photograph more of them on brides. The flowers perfectly matched the wider feel of the wedding.
Bride portraits in the bag, and it was time to move onto the couple's photos. As you can see from the images above and below, it was exceedingly bright in the open, so I had to pick my angles carefully. Luckily there was still plenty of shade to use - this is important for two reasons. Firstly, open shade provides a really flattering light that's easy to work with and secondly, it stops the bride and groom bursting into flames! I started the photos on Deer Park's brand new countryside view-point. This is a really recent addition that adds a new set of stairs onto the newly renovated lawn below. It's also the perfect place to stand with a cocktail in the evening, watching the deer running past as the sun sets.
The next few images were taken in the same place, but this time with the couple turned so that they were partly shaded, with the remaining sunlight hitting them from behind. I always shoot into direct sunlight where I can - it's the most flattering way, and it also prevents the bride and groom (or anyone else for that matter) having to look directly into the light. I love the colours in these images. The white of the wedding dress and the pale blue of the groom's suit are set-off so well against the lush green of the countryside behind.
For this next small set of images I moved the couple to the back of the gardens, again in to an area of open shade. I really like the pattern of the light as it comes through the bushes and hedges at the back of the image. That mottled green light is just gorgeous and adds a lovely touch to the image. To ensure I kept the romantic feel here, I used a long lens and stood some way back (so I was in the hot sun!) This also helps blur the background more, therefore keeping the focus solely on the people in the photo.
I think the closer cropped images work really well here, the dark background really helps separate the bride and groom from the rest of the image.
For the image below I stood the bride and groom right in the corner of the garden, in the shadiest bit I could find. The light here was so delicate, it was just enough to pick out all of the detail on the bride's dress without overpowering anything. I used this same location for some other photos a little later on too, when it came to do some of the formal photos. There wasn't a lot of space here so I chose to take a few images of the couple's parents here, and took the larger group photos on the lawn.
From the main lawn, we moved up the garden further to where a small stone bridge crosses the brook. As you can see the light was rather bright so the only option really was to keep the sun behind the couple. That's no bad thing - Deer Park's gorgeous garden was the perfect backdrop, along with the willow tree at the top of the image.
The willow tree actually made for a perfect location for a really cool image. I hadn't used this location before for a photo, and hadn't really paid it much attention either before now, but as we were walking past I could see the gorgeous golden glow coming through the back of the tree as you can see in the image below. I asked the bride and groom to stand inside the tree's canopy, and picked a spot to shoot through where I could just see them, whilst framing the lens between two bits of foliage.
From the willow we moved along the top part of the garden a little, to where these pink roses were. I used the same technique for this image as the last one with the willow, using the natural vegetation to frame the couple in the image.
For the two photos, above and below, I simply asked the bride and groom to walk down the drive that runs along the side of Deer Park, and look out to the countryside. All couples are different; some are naturals in front of the camera, and some really dislike having their photos taken at the best of times. A fail-safe way I use to get the most natural wedding photos, no matter how people are before a camera, is to get them to take a walk. The premise is simple - hold your husband/wife's hand, and take a stroll at the pace you would a romantic walk in a park somewhere. The number one rule - don't look at the photographer! The second you look down the lens, the images loses all romanticism.
After the couple's photos were completed, there was a small gap where I could go inside to the Bredon Room and take some photos of the wedding reception room setup.
The table names were all after moves in the game of chess (thanks Google).
The Bredon Room at Deer park has dark wood flooring, natural oak beams and off-white walls. Because the colours in the room already contrast each other, you don't need much in terms of decorations or table centrepieces, and here, the more simple designs usually work best. In fact the only real colour that was added to the room was a deep green, which featured on the table plan, the wedding cake and the centrepieces only. Everything else was very neutral.
Once I had finished in the Bredon Room, I went back outside and took a few formal photos of the bride and groom with their parents and immediate family. I finished with a few more couples photos, and before long the wedding guests began to arrive.
With the bride and groom being interviewed by the registrars at this point, I took the opportunity to photograph the guests relaxing and otherwise enjoying themselves. It was a very hot autumn day, with a lot of people seeking refuge in the shade.
With the registrar's interviews of the bride and groom complete, it was time to get the wedding itself underway! For me this was still a slightly odd feeling - Of the 340 weddings I had photographed before, this was perhaps the third where I had taken the couple's photos and group photos before the wedding. It was nice knowing that I didn't have to rush to find and organise people for photos as soon as the wedding ceremony was over. For me, the hardest parts of the day were already behind me!
Luckily for the couple, their witnesses, best man, bridesmaid (and myself) we were in the shade of the structure, under which the outdoor wedding ceremonies take place. The wedding guests however were in the bright afternoon sun and I felt for them. From a photography perspective, the hardest part here is finding a balance between the exposure for the outside, in sunlight, and the shaded area where we were.
One of the aspects I really enjoy about photographing weddings at Deer Park, is that during an outdoor wedding, the bridesmaids and bride get to walk some 60 metres from the Bredon Room, out to where the ceremony takes place. Whilst it must seem a daunting prospect at first, it sure makes for some fantastic photo opportunities!
I really love the next series of images. The reactions between Helen and Dan are adorable!
One of the challenges of the wedding ceremony was the reading that took place outside. I had to pick a spot to shoot, and quickly, whilst dealing with the exposure change between the open shade of the wedding ceremony and the direct sunlight on the speaker.
Previously at Deer Park, the outdoor weddings took place under a small wooden bandstand. The problem was, that the roof was quite low and there was barely enough space inside to fit everyone. Earlier in the year, the bandstand had literally been craned down onto the lower lawn terrace, and this whole new structure build in it's place. The new structure is much better, in every way. It's wider and taller too - in the old structure, it was hard to see the heads of average-sized people from the outside, which from a photographers perspective made things very difficult. The new building is much better. It's very open, but has glass panelling at the sides to protect from strong gusts of wind.
With the official parts of the wedding now complete and the photos in the bag, all the bride and groom had to do was relax with their wedding guests. There was none of the usual stress to rush and get group photos, and couples photos etc. It was wonderful, and I wish more weddings took place like this.
The time period immediately after the end of a wedding ceremony is one of my favourites to photograph. Everyone is truly happy, and all of the wedding guests flock to the newlyweds to give their best wishes for their married lives, and sometimes some marriage advice too! The whole time is filled with hugs, smiles and real emotion.
There was a little time set aside for a few smaller formal photos after the ceremony too. The images before the wedding itself were all of the immediate family who had arrived early.
With so few photos to take after the wedding, guests were allowed to sit back and enjoy themselves however they chose to. In the images above and below you can see the old bandstand style pergola that used to be used for the outdoor ceremonies. It's much better suited to being a seating area on the new terrace.
The receiving line once again made for some great photos of the bride and groom welcoming their guests to the reception. I was able to shoot with the sun behind the people in the images which is absolutely my preferred way to shoot.
I tend not to photograph people whilst they're eating - it's not a flattering look on anyone and the wedding guests deserve some peace from me! I also need a little down-time too, and I tend to have a 20 minute break during the starters and main courses. Between courses however I'll usually reappear to photograph the bride and groom chatting and mingling with their guests.
At the end of the wedding breakfast, with the plates now cleared it was time to move on to the speeches, and in keeping with tradition, the father of the bride went first. I didn't want to move around unnecessarily during the speeches, as I wanted the guest's focus to remain on those speaking, instead of me. For the most part, I hid away behind a beam in the corner, with the wedding cake by my side.
Once the father of the bride had finished his moving speech, it was time for Dan, the groom to say a few words. In another break from tradition, his speech was followed by one from the bride, Helen. After Helen spoke it was the best man's turn to round-off the speeches!
The timing was tight but we were able to get up onto Bredon Hill for a few sunset photos, before the sun dipped below the Malvern Hills on the horizon and we lost the light.
[Below] this is one of my favourite images from the sunset shoot, with the sun coming between Helen and Dan, with the two of them very nearly creating a heart shape. I love how the soft, reddish-gold light has seemingly wrapped around them - you can see the light in Helen's hair and across Dan's back.
A little later in the evening, we were seemingly gifted another sunset! the sky went really dark and became super colourful. I stood the bride and groom on a small wall that runs alongside Deer Park, in order that I could shoot from below them, up towards the sky itself. I made sure that I exposed for the sunset, turning the bride and groom into silhouettes in these stunning photos.
Once back inside it was time for the cutting of the wedding cake, and then straight onto the first dance in the Panelled Hall next door.
For the photos of the first dance, I actually relied on Tom's (the videographer) video lights. These produced a constant light source instead of the flash that I would usually use. This created a lovely ambience not only in the photos but in the room itself as the couple were dancing.
A couple of my favourite images are those above and below - the brides parents dancing with each other in the above image, and the bride and her father dancing together in the image below.
At the end of the evening, the bride and groom chose to end the day with a bang, literally, in the form of a fireworks display. For these images I used a tripod, and a set a long exposure in the camera in order to capture the fireworks, and used two off-camera flashes to light the bride and groom.